History of the christian church



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He safely arrived in Wittenberg on Thursday evening, the 6th of March, full of faith and hope, and ready for a fight against his false friends.

On this journey he had on the 3d or 4th of March an interesting interview with two Swiss students, Kessler and Spengler, in the tavern of the Black Bear at Jena. We have an account of it from one of them, John Kessler of St. Gallen, who afterwards became a reformer of that city.489 It contrasts very favorably with his subsequent dealings with the Swiss, especially with Zwingli, which were clouded by prejudice, and embittered by intolerance. The episode was purely private, and had no influence upon the course of events; but it reveals a characteristic trait in this mighty man, who even in critical moments of intense earnestness did not lose his playful humor. We find the same combination of apparently opposite qualities when at Coburg he was watching the affairs of the Diet at Augsburg, and wrote a childlike letter to his little Hans. Such harmless humor is like the light of the sun breaking through dark clouds.

The two Swiss, who had studied at Basel, were attracted by the fame of Luther and Melanchthon, and traveled on foot to Wittenberg to hear them. They arrived at Jena after a terrible thunderstorm, fatigued and soaked through, and humbly sat down on a bench near the door of the guest-chamber, when they saw a Knight seated at a table, sword in hand, and the Hebrew Psalter before him. Luther recognized the Swiss by their dialect, kindly invited them to sit down at his side, and offered them a drink. He inquired whether Erasmus was still living in Basel, what he was doing, and what the people in Switzerland thought of Martin Luther. The students replied that some lauded him to the skies as a great reformer; others, especially the priests, denounced him as an intolerable heretic. During the conversation two traders came in; one took from his pocket Luther’s sermons on the Gospels and Epistles, and remarked that the writer must be either an angel from heaven or a devil from hell. At dinner Luther gave them a rare feast of reason and flow of soul. The astonished students suspected that the mysterious Knight was Ulrich von Hutten, when Luther, turning to the host, smilingly remarked, "Behold, I have become a nobleman over the night: these Swiss think that I am Hutten; you take me for Luther. The next thing will be that I am Marcolfus." He gave his young friends good advice to study the biblical languages with Melanchthon, paid their bill, offered them first a glass of beer, but substituted for it a glass of wine, since the Swiss were not used to beer, and with a shake of the hand he begged them to remember him to Doctor Jerome Schurf, their countryman, at Wittenberg. When they wished to know the name of the sender of the salutation, he replied, "Simply tell him that he who is coming sends greeting, and he will understand it."

When the students a few days afterwards arrived at Wittenberg, and called on Dr. Schurf to deliver the message from "him who is coming," they were agreeably surprised to find Luther there with Melanchthon, Jonas, and Amsdorf. Luther greeted them heartily, and introduced them to Melanchthon, of whom he had spoken at Jena.

The same student has left us a description of Luther’s appearance at that time. He was no more the meager, emaciated monk as at the Leipzig disputation three years previously,490 but, as Kessler says, "somewhat stout, yet upright, bending backwards rather than stooping, with a face upturned to heaven, with deep dark eyes and eyebrows, twinkling and sparkling like stars, so that one could hardly look steadily at them."491 These deep, dark eyes, full of strange fire, had struck Cardinal Cajetan at Augsburg, and Cardinal Aleander at Worms, as the eyes of a demon. They made the same impression on John Dantiscus, afterwards bishop of Culm and Ermeland, who on his return from Spain to Poland in 1523 saw Luther in Wittenberg; he reported that his "eyes were sharp, and had a certain terrible coruscation of lightning such as was seen now and then in demoniacs," and adds that, "his features were like his books," and "his speech violent and full of scorn." But friends judged differently. Another student, Albert Burrer, who saw him after his return from the Wartburg, praises his mild, kindly countenance, his pleasant sonorous voice, his charming address, the piety of his words and acts, the power of his eloquence which moved every hearer not made of stone, and created a desire to hear him again and again.492
§ 68. Luther restores Order in Wittenberg.—The End of Carlstadt.
I. Eight Sermons of Luther preached from Sunday, March 7 (Invocavit) to the next Sunday (Reminiscere), after his return to Wittenberg. The oldest editions, slightly varying in length, appeared 1523. Altenb. ed., II. 99 sqq.; Walch, XV. 2423 sqq.: XX. 1–101; Erl. ed., XXVIII. 202–285 (both recensions). Luther’s Letters to Spalatin, the Elector, and others from March, 1522, in De Wette, II. 144 sqq.

II. Of modern historians, Marheineke, Merle D’Aubigné, Ranke, Hagenbach, and Köstlin (I. 537–549) may be compared.


On the Sunday after his arrival, Luther ascended his old pulpit, and re-appeared before his congregation of citizens and students. Wittenberg was a small place; but what he said and did there, and what Calvin did afterwards in Geneva, had the significance of a world-historical fact, more influential at that time than an encyclical from Rome.

Protestantism had reached a very critical juncture. Luther or Carlstadt, reformation or revolution, the written Word or illusive inspirations, order or confusion: that was the question. Luther was in the highest and best mood, full of faith in his cause, and also full of charity for his opponents, strong in matter, sweet in manner, and completely successful. He never showed such moderation and forbearance before or after.

He preached eight sermons for eight days in succession, and carried the audience with him. They are models of effective popular eloquence, and among the best he ever preached. He handled the subject from the stand-point of a pastor, with fine tact and practical wisdom. He kept aloof from coarse personalities which disfigure so many of his polemical writings. Not one unkind word, not one unpleasant allusion, escaped his lips. In plain, clear, strong, scriptural language, he refuted the errors without naming the errorists. The positive statement of the truth in love is the best refutation of error.493

The ruling ideas of these eight discourses are: Christian freedom and Christian charity; freedom from the tyranny of radicalism which would force the conscience against forms, as the tyranny of popery forces the conscience in the opposite direction; charity towards the weak, who must be trained like children, and tenderly dealt with, lest they stumble and fall. Faith is worthless without charity. No man has a right to compel his brother in matters that are left free; and among these are marriage, living in convents, private confession, fasting and eating, images in churches. Abuses which contradict the word of God, as private masses, should be abolished, but in an orderly manner and by proper authority. The Word of God and moral suasion must be allowed to do the work. Paul preached against the idols in Athens, without touching one of them; and yet they fell in consequence of his preaching.

"Summa summarum," said Luther, "I will preach, speak, write, but I will force no one; for faith must be voluntary. Take me as an example. I stood up against the Pope, indulgences, and all papists, but without violence or uproar. I only urged, preached, and declared God’s Word, nothing else. And yet while I was asleep, or drinking Wittenberg beer with my Philip Melanchthon and Amsdorf, the Word inflicted greater injury on popery than prince or emperor ever did. I did nothing, the Word did every thing. Had I appealed to force, all Germany might have been deluged with blood; yea, I might have kindled a conflict at Worms, so that the Emperor would not have been safe. But what would have been the result? Ruin and desolation of body and soul. I therefore kept quiet, and gave the Word free course through the world. Do you know what the Devil thinks when he sees men use violence to propagate the gospel? He sits with folded arms behind the fire of hell, and says with malignant looks and frightful grin: ’Ah, how wise these madmen are to play my game! Let them go on; I shall reap the benefit. I delight in it.’ But when he sees the Word running and contending alone on the battle-field, then he shudders and shakes for fear. The Word is almighty, and takes captive the hearts."494

Eloquence rarely achieved a more complete and honorable triumph. It was not the eloquence of passion and violence, but the eloquence of wisdom and love. It is easier to rouse the wild beast in man, than to tame it into submission. Melanchthon and the professors, the magistrate and peaceful citizens, were delighted. Dr. Schurf wrote to the Elector, after the sixth discourse: "Oh, what joy has Dr. Martin’s return spread among us! His words, through divine mercy, are bringing back every day misguided people into the way of the truth. It is as clear as the sun, that the Spirit of God is in him, and that he returned to Wittenberg by His special providence."

Most of the old forms were restored again, at least for a season, till the people were ripe for the changes. Luther himself returned to the convent, observed the fasts, and resumed the cowl, but laid it aside two years afterwards when the Elector sent him a new suit. The passage in the mass, however, which referred to the unbloody repetition of the sacrifice and the miraculous transformation of the elements, was not restored, and the communion in both kinds prevailed, and soon became the universal custom. The Elector himself, shortly before his death (May 5, 1525), communed with the cup.

Didymus openly acknowledged his error, and declared that Luther preached like an angel.495 But the Zwickau Prophets left Wittenberg for ever, and abused the Reformer as a new pope and enemy of spiritual religion. Münzer stirred up the Peasants’ War, and met a tragic fate.496

Carlstadt submitted silently, but sullenly. He was a disappointed and unhappy man, and harbored feelings of revenge against Luther. Ranke characterizes him as "one of those men, not rare among Germans, who with an inborn tendency to profundity unite the courage of rejecting all that is established, and defending all that others reject, without ever rising to a clear view and solid conviction." He resumed his lectures in the university for a time; but in 1523 he retired to a farm in the neighborhood, to live as "neighbor Andrew" with lowly peasants, without, however, resigning the emoluments of his professorship. He devoted himself more fully than ever to his mystical speculations and imaginary inspirations. He entered into secret correspondence with Münzer, though he never fully approved his political movements. He published at Jena, where he established a printing-press, a number of devotional books under the name of "a new layman," instead of Doctor of Theology. He induced the congregation of Orlamünde to elect him their pastor without authority from the academic Senate of Wittenberg which had the right of appointment, and introduced there his innovations in worship, storming the altars and images. In 1524 be openly came out with his novel theory of the Lord’s Supper in opposition to Luther, and thus kindled the unfortunate eucharistic controversy which so seriously interfered with the peace and harmony of the Reformers. He also sympathized with the Anabaptists.497 Luther after long forbearance gave him up as incorrigible.498 With his consent, Carlstadt was exiled from Saxony (1524), but allowed to return on a sort of revocation, and on condition of keeping silence (1525). He evaded another expulsion by flight (1528). He wandered about in Germany in great poverty, made common cause with the Zwinglians, gave up some of his extravagant notions, sobered down, and found a resting-place first as pastor in Zürich, and then as professor of theology in Basel (1534–1541), where during the raging of a pestilence he finished his erratic career.
§ 69. The Diets of Nürnberg, a.d. 1522–1524. Adrian VI.
I. Walch, XV. 2504 sqq. Ranke, vol. II. pp. 27–46, 70–100, 244–262. J. Janssen, Vol. II. 256 sqq., 315 sqq. Köstlin, I. 622 sqq.

II. On Adrian VI. Gachard: Correspondance de Charles Quint et d’Adrian VI. Brux., 1859. Moring: Vita Adriani VI., 1536. Burmann: Hadrianus VI., sive Analecta Historica de Hadr. VI. Trajecti 1727 (includes Moring). Ranke: Die röm. Päpste in den letzten vier Jarhh., I., 59–64 (8th ed. 1885). C. Höfler (Rom. Cath.): Wahl und Thronbesteigung des letzten deutschen Papstes, Adrian VI. Wien, 1872; and Der deutsche Kaiser und der letzte deutsche Papst, Carl V. und Adrian VI. Wien, 1876. Fr. Nippold: Die Reformbestrebungen Papst Hadrian VI., und die Ursachen ihres Scheiterns. Leipzig, 1875. H. Bauer: Hadrian VI. Heidelb., 1876. Maurenbrecher: Gesch. der kathol. Reformation, I. 202–225. Nördlingen, 1880. See also the Lit. on Charles V., § 50 (p. 262 sqq.).


We must now turn our attention to the political situation, and the attitude of the German Diet to the church question.

The growing sympathies of the German nation with the Reformation and the political troubles made the execution of the papal bull and the Edict of Worms against Luther more and more impossible. The Emperor was absent in Spain, and fully occupied with the suppression of an insurrection, the conquest of Mexico by Cortez, and the war with France. Germany was threatened by the approach of the Turks, who had conquered Belgrad and the greater part of Hungary. The dangers of the nation were overruled for the progress of Protestantism.

An important change took place in the papacy. Leo X. died Dec. 1, 1521; and Adrian VI. (1459–1523) was unexpectedly elected in his absence, perhaps by the indirect influence of the Emperor, his former pupil. The cardinals hardly knew what they did, and hoped he might decline.

Adrian formed, by his moral earnestness and monastic piety, a striking contrast to the frivolity and worldliness of his predecessors. He was a Dutchman, born at Utrecht, a learned professor of theology in Louvain, then administrator and inquisitor of Spain, and a man of unblemished character.499 He had openly denied the papal infallibility; but otherwise he was an orthodox Dominican, and opposed to a doctrinal reformation. He had combined with the Louvain professors in the condemnation of Luther, and advised Charles to take rigorous measures against him at Worms. Barefooted and without any ostentation, he entered Rome. He read daily mass at early dawn, took a simple meal, slept on a couch, and lived like a monk. He introduced strict economy in the papal household, and vigorously attacked the grossest abuses. He tried to gain the influence of Erasmus and Zwingli. . But he encountered opposition everywhere.

Under these circumstances the Diet met at Nürnberg, March 23, 1522, and again Nov. 17, under the presidency of Ferdinand, the brother of the Emperor. To avert the danger of the Turks, processions and public prayers were ordered, and a tax imposed; but no army was raised.

Adrian demanded the execution of the Edict of Worms, and compared Luther to Mohammed; but he broke the force of his request by confessing with surprising frankness the corruptions of the Roman court, which loudly called for a radical moral reform of the head and members. Never before had the Curia made such a confession.

"We know," wrote the Pope in the instruction to his legate, Francesco Chieregati, "that for some time many abominations, abuses in ecclesiastical affairs, and violations of rights have taken place in the holy see; and that all things have been perverted into bad. From the head the corruption has passed to the limbs, from the Pope to the prelates: we have all departed; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." He regarded Protestantism as a just punishment for the sins of the prelates. He promised to do all in his power to remedy the evil, and to begin with the Curia whence it arose.500

The Emperor was likewise in favor of a reform of discipline, though displeased with Adrian for not supporting him in his war with France and his church-spoliation schemes.

The attempt to reform the church morally without touching the dogma had been made by the great Councils of the fifteenth century, and failed. Adrian found no sympathy in Rome, and reigned too short a time (Jan. 9, 1522 to Sept. 14, 1523) to accomplish his desire. It was rumored that he died of poison; but the proof is wanting. Rome rejoiced. His successor, Clement VII. (1523–1534), adopted at once the policy of his cousin, Leo X.

Complaint was made in the Diet against the Elector Frederick, that he tolerated Luther at Wittenberg, and allowed the double communion, the marriage of priests, and the forsaking of convents, but his controlling influence prevented any unfavorable action. The report of the suppression of the radical movements in Wittenberg made a good impression. Lutheran books were freely printed and sold in Nürnberg. Osiander preached openly against the Roman Antichrist.

The Diet, in the answer to the Pope (framed Feb. 8 and published as an edict March 6, 1523), refused to execute the Edict of Worms, and demanded the calling of a free general council in Germany within a year. In the mean time, Luther should keep silence; and the preachers should content themselves with preaching the holy gospel according to the approved writings of the Christian church. At the same time the hundred gravamina of the German nation were repeated.

This edict was a compromise, and did not decide the church question; but it averted the immediate danger to the Reformation, and so far marks a favorable change, as compared with the Edict of Worms. It was the beginning of the political emancipation of Germany from the control of the papacy. Luther was rather pleased with it, except the prohibition of preaching and writing, which he did not obey.

The influence of the edict, however, was weakened by several events which occurred soon afterwards.

At a new Diet at Nürnberg in January, 1524, where the shrewd Pope Clement VII. was represented by Cardinal Campeggio, the resolution was passed to execute the Edict of Worms, though with the elastic clause, "as far as possible."

At the earnest solicitation of the papal nuncio, the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, and the Dukes William and Louis of Bavaria, together with twelve bishops of South Germany, concluded at Ratisbon, July 6, 1524, a league for the protection of the Roman faith against the Reformation, with the exception of the abolition of some glaring abuses which did not touch doctrines.501 The Emperor lent it his influence by issuing a stringent edict (July 27, 1524). This was an ominous event. The Romish league called forth a Protestant counter-league of Philip of Hesse and John of Saxony, at Torgau in June, 1526, although against the advice of the Wittenberg Reformers, who feared more evil than good from a union of politics with religion and trusted to the power of the Word of God without any carnal weapons.

Thus the German nation was divided into two hostile camps. From this unhappy division arose the political weakness of the empire, and the terrible calamities of the Smalkaldian and the Thirty Years’ Wars. In 1525 the Peasants’ War broke out, and gave new strength to the reaction, but only for a short time.


§ 70. Luther and Henry VIII
Henricus VIII.: Adsertio VII. Sacram. adv. Luth. Lond. 1521. A German translation by Frick, 1522, in Walch, XIX., 158 sqq. Lutherus: Contra Henricum Regem. 1522. Also freely reproduced in German by Luther. His letter to Henry, Sept. 1, 1525. Auf des Königs in England Lästerschrift M. Luther’s Antwort. 1527. Afterwards also in Latin. See the documents in Walch, XIX. 153–521; Erl. ed., XXVIII. 343 sqq.; XXX. 1–14. Comp. also Luther’s letters of Feb. 4 and March 11, 1527, in De Wette III. 161 and 163.
With all his opposition to Ultra-Protestantism in church and state, Luther did not mean to yield an inch to the Romanists. This appears from two very personal controversies which took place during these disturbances,—the one with Henry VIII. concerning the sacraments; the other with Erasmus about predestination and free-will. In both he forgot the admirable lessons of moderation which he had enjoined from the pulpit in Wittenberg. He used again the club of Hercules.

Henry VIII. of England urged Charles V. to exterminate the Lutheran heresy by force, and wrote in 1521 (probably with the assistance of his chaplain, Edward Lee), a scholastic defence of the seven sacraments, against Luther’s "Babylonish Captivity." He dedicated the book to Pope Leo X. He treated the Reformer with the utmost contempt, as a blasphemer and servant of Satan. He used the old weapons of church authority against freedom. He adhered to the dogma of transubstantiation, even after his breach with Rome. Pope Clement VII. judged that this book was written with the aid of the Holy Spirit, and promised indulgence to all who read it. At the same time he gratified the ambition of the vain king by confirming the title "Defender of the Faith," which Leo had already conferred upon him.502

The Protestant successors of Henry have retained the title to this day, though with a very different view of its meaning. The British sovereigns are defenders of the Episcopal Church in England, and of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, and in both characters enemies of the Church of Rome.

Luther read the King a lecture (in Latin and German) such as was rarely read to any crowned head. He called him "King Henry, of God’s disgrace (or wrath), King of England," and heaped upon him the most abusive epithets.503 He incidentally hit other princes, saying that "King Henry helps to prove the proverb that there are no greater fools than kings and princes." Such a style of polemics can not be justified by the coarseness of the age, or the nature of the provocation, and did more harm to Luther than to Henry. His best friends regretted it; yet long afterwards he even surpassed the violence, if possible, in his savage and scurrilous attack upon Duke Henry of Brunswick.504

When there was a prospect of gaining Henry VIII. for the cause of the Reformation, Luther made the matter worse by a strange inconsistency. In a most humble letter of Sept. 1, 1525, be retracted (not his doctrine, but) all the personal abuse, asked his pardon, and offered to honor his name publicly. Henry in his reply refused the offer with royal pride and scorn, and said that he now despised him as heartily for his cowardice as he had formerly hated him for his heresy. He also charged him with violating a nun consecrated to God, and leading other monks into a breach of their vows and into eternal perdition. Emser published a German translation of Luther’s letter and the King’s answer (which was transmitted through Duke George of Saxony), and accompanied it with new vituperations and slanders (1527). All the Romanists regarded this controversy, and the similar correspondence with Duke George, as a great blow to the Reformation.

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